Cotton Reboot! (Switch) review
"Cotton Reboot! is even cheaper than a Sharp X68000. What are you waiting for?"
Looking at me across the room, or even just in poor lighting, you probably would never guess my terrible secret. I'm hesitant to reveal it even now, given how long I've gotten away with it, but here goes: until this month, I had never played Cotton.
You might be asking yourself right now, "How has he never played Cotton?" And I do have my reasons. Excuses, you could call them. First, there's the fact it debuted in arcades in 1991. I didn't get to a lot of arcades, even back then when they were much more common. And besides, the cabinet was never manufactured for sale outside Japan. The game did eventually come to PlayStation (but again, only in Japan) and made it to Sharp's popular X8000 hardware (only in Japan, of course). It even reached the Neo Geo Pocket Color... in Japan and Europe, but not in North America. Finally it did come to North America on the Turbo CD, but that hardware was never in my budget and I've never been big on emulation. But here in 2021, I finally ran out of excuses because BEEP has produced an accessible version of the game called Cotton Reboot that is available for both Switch and PlayStation 4. I own both of those consoles!
Having finally played Cotton, after years spent watching enviously from the sidelines as people talked about what a great shooter it is, I now can say from personal experience that I went way too long without playing a shooter that is indeed great.
In case you don't know, Cotton tells the story of a witch of the same name who is visited one day by a distressed fairy. That fairy asks her to save the Fairy Realm, but the witch isn't interested. Then, out of desperation, the fairy notes that if Cotton does save the realm, she'll get to eat a seven-flavored willow. Immediately, the hungry young witch takes up the cause.
As near as I can tell, "willow" in the Cotton universe is candy. Cotton isn't actually scarfing down trees, which would make very little sense at all. It would make almost as little sense as anything else that happens over the course of seven vibrant, wacky, action-packed stages of horizontal shooting.
Most shooters have some sort of quirk, and that's true here. In addition to boasting a zany story, memorably told with cute storyboards and a passable text translation, Cotton features a crystal mechanic. You shoot enemies and they sometimes drop crystals, which you then blast repeatedly for better rewards, provided they don't drop off the screen. Juggling crystals gives you the chance to become more powerful and score a lot more points, but it also makes your other goal--mere survival--a bit trickier. Enemies like to come in from all sides, and they aren't shy about peppering the air with bullets. I don't really consider this a "bullet hell" shooter in the main, but there are times when the screen fills with dangerous shrapnel (especially if you haven't been actively eliminating threats as they appear).
Stages typically feature both a mid-boss and a normal one, with the exception of a final area that consists of a single battle with a powerful adversary. Each of these foes are quite distinct, not recycled thugs given a palette swap. There's no monotonous boss rush, and even standard enemies don't repeat too often from one stage to the next. As a result, the game maintains a welcome sense of progression, then ends before it can grow stale.
Cotton Reboot features two versions of the campaign: the X68000 original, complete with visuals I found charmingly old school (though I'm not one of those people who can talk intelligently about scan lines or contrast ratios or whatever the techies are into these days), and an "arranged" version. The latter option plays much like its X68000 inspiration, but the visuals in the stages and in the storyboard sequences have had any rough edges smoothed out considerably. The difficulty also feels toned down quite a bit, in part because Cotton's weaponry seems to do a much better job of filling the screen as bullets filter through crystals and spread out to cause maximum mayhem.
Leaderboards are available, if you don't modify the wrong settings. If you don't care about bragging rights, though, you can start with a larger supply of lives. This feels unnecessary to me, since you're free to continue as often as you like when you do finally go down in flames. There's also an option to select between difficulty settings, and you can disable player hit display if you wish. Finally, there eventually is the option to play as characters other than Cotton: Silk, Appli and Needle. You have to unlock them first, by clearing "Arrange" mode.
One additional mode of note is "Timeattack," which lets you play for 2 or 5 minutes and try to rack up the best score you can. It's a great way to practice shooting crystals, but the screen fills up in a hurry and there's a lot of flashing that explains the prominent epilepsy warning in the opening screens. Cotton Reboot keeps separate records across the various modes and difficulty settings, and for each available character. My very first 2-minute performance earned me the rank of 1680 with a score of 985,040 points. That was enough to put me ahead of AbeVigoda, who only scored a paltry 982,710 points and a rank of 1685. Poor Abe!
If you're like I used to be, back in my feckless youth, you might wonder if you should finally make time to play Cotton. If you like horizontal shooters, I say you should. It's available on two popular consoles, so you may already have the necessary hardware hooked up to your television. The core game is fun, with a neat system to reward mastery and inspire additional runs after the first time the credits roll. In Cotton Reboot, you get both the original visuals and an attractive enhanced form of them. There also is an online ranking system, plus a peppy soundtrack that is difficult to resist. The MSRP for the package might seem a bit steep at a glance, but this is a full-featured reboot that makes a great old game accessible to a new audience. I have a hard time faulting the developers and publisher for trying to make a buck while giving Cotton another chance to find the larger audience she deserves. Do yourself a favor and give it a shot!
Staff review by Jason Venter (September 07, 2021)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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